A look at local public school districts' continuous learning plans for rest of academic year

Sam Ribakoff
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON – When the state announced on March 27 that public schools would remain closed for the rest of the school year to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, it also announced that school districts would be required to prepare and implement their own “continuous learning” plans.

The goal of those plans is to keep students involved in their education during the closures, and to keep high school seniors on track to graduate on time.

Here are important points in the continuous learning plans for the four public school districts in San Juan County.

Aztec Municipal School District

“Our messaging is that our school campuses are closed, but school is not,” Aztec Municipal School District Superintendent Kirk Carpenter said.

Carpenter said that a majority of school work for students will be online, but that for students who do not have access to the internet, paper packets will be available for students and parents to pick up at school meal pick up locations.

Aztec Municipal School District Superintendent Kirk Carpenter talks about the importance of mill funding, Monday, Sept. 23, 2019, during a public forum in Aztec.

RESPONSE:Updated list of school meal distribution times, locations for Farmington, Aztec, Bloomfield

Carpenter said that the district is looking into providing USB drives with electronic copies of classwork packets for students with computers, but without reliable internet access.

Carpenter said the lessons being designed by teachers in each grade level are “self-sufficient. We don’t expect our parents to be teachers.”

Carpenter said that the classwork packets will be graded, and the district will follow New Mexico Public Education Department’s advice to implement a pass/no credit system for all classes and grades except for high school seniors.

“We are moving forward as much as we can,” Carpenter added, “This is not busy work.”

High school seniors will be issued letter grades for their work in a modified rubric Carpenter referred to as a “hybrid model of grading.” Students' grades for the third quarter of school, before the school closures in mid-March, will be used as a benchmark that students cannot fall behind and get lower grades. They can, however, work to increase their grades during the school closure.  

“We’re not going to let the situation harm anybody, but at the same time we don’t want to hold students back from improving their grades,” Carpenter added.

Principal of Aztec High School Warman Hall called the new grading system “very flexible. Forgiving even.”

Hall said that during the preceding weeks, about 85% of students at the high school could access classwork online, while about 30 seniors, and 45 freshman, sophomores and juniors did not have reliable internet access.

COVID-19 in New Mexico:1,845 positive tests, 55 dead, 487 recovered

During an online school board meeting on April 14, Hall said that internet access is the biggest need for students, adding that for many students, internet access at home is "woeful." 

Carpenter said that laptop computers from various classrooms in the district would be distributed to students on loan, and that first access would be given to seniors so that they can finish classwork and graduate on time.

Carpenter added that teachers will be on call for parents and students certain hours per week to help students with classwork.

Teachers will also be making, at minimum, a once-a-week call to parents and students to check up on them.

During the school board meeting on April 14, Associate Superintendent Director of Instruction Judy Englehart said that special education and ELL staff would also make at least once- or twice-a-week phone calls to students and families. 

Superintendent Kim Mizell, left, delivers food to a student on a muddy road in the Escrito area on March 19.

Bloomfield School District

Bloomfield School District Superintendent Kim Mizell also said that teachers in her district would mostly have classwork, or, “enrichment packets,” as Mizell referred to them, available for students online on platforms like Google Hangouts.

Bloomfield students will be receiving a letter grade based on the grades they received by April 17, including high school seniors. Bloomfield will not issue pass/no credit grades.

Mizell added that high school seniors in danger of not completing required coursework to graduate are working with teachers and counselors to complete that coursework by June 19.

Seniors who didn’t have reliable access to a computer were given school laptops by the district.  

IMPACT:New Mexico public schools shuttered for remainder of the school year

For students that don’t have reliable access to the internet, the district will distribute paper packets at the Farmers Market location in Bloomfield at 401 W Broadway Avenue. 

Kim Mizell

Students and parents will be able to pick up one new packet of classwork every week.  

Mizell said that special education teachers are also going to post assignments and interactive “challenges” online on Bloomfield schools' YouTube and Facebook pages.

“We’re trying to adapt,” Mizell said, “We’re trying everything we can possibly do to connect. But the reality is, it’s very difficult.”

Mizell added that students and families in the district have varying degrees of access to technology. Mizell said that the district could not get in contact with at least 70 students to survey them about their access to technology for school work.

“The reality is, a lot of family’s are in survival mode,” Mizell said, “As much as I think academics take precedent, a lot of families are in survival mode. And we’re having to deal with that.”

Students can access the district’s WiFi in Bloomfield High School’s parking lot with their own computers or smartphones.    

Central Consolidated School District

Central Consolidated School District is referring to its continuous learning program as "learn at home."

In a statement sent to The Daily Times, CCSD stated that classwork packets for students are now available online at the district’s website at ccsdnm.org/departments/academics.

The statement notes that many families and students across the district lack internet availability and access to computers, making it a necessity to distribute paper classwork packets. The statement notes that the packets might be distributed either by teachers themselves on a biweekly basis, or by bus routes and volunteers handing off packets to students.

CCSD's Director of Student Support Services, Amanda Sutherland, added that the district is now looking into mailing packets to students.

COVID-19 COVERAGE:Spring sports in mid-April, dashed by coronavirus, a time to envision state title hopes

All student grades from quarter three, the quarter before the school closure, will remain untouched and those grades will be coded as pass/no credit for the remainder of the school year. 

Story continues below.

Students who did not receive a passing grade in the previous quarter will work with teachers to improve their grades to achieve a passing grade. High school seniors who need to improve their grades to graduate will work with their teachers to create projects to improve their grades.      

A statement from Interim Superintendent of CCSD, Dave Goldtooth, states that the district will make available laptops for high school seniors who need them to complete their graduation requirements.

The statement from Goldtooth goes on to say that the district is working to place WiFi hotspots in locations around school buildings, sports fields and teacher housing to provide remote internet access to students, as well as working with the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority to provide WiFi access to students on tribal lands.

The district will also equip a number of school buses with WiFi hotspots so students and staff can connect to the internet within 300 feet of the bus.   

"That’s been the biggest problem, internet access, especially in the Newcomb, Naschitti part of the district,” said Sutherland, "What we’re not going to do is to punish a student for not having internet, or being quarantined.”

During an online school board meeting on April 16, both statements read from teachers in the district and school board members stressed the lack of internet access students and families have in the district and how that could affect students' access to their education. 

School board members said that in the coming weeks they would continue to expand the district's outreach and services to students and families with limited access to technology and transportation, and rural students and families.     

Counselors and teachers will stay in contact with seniors and special education students and families on a weekly basis. 

Farmington Municipal School

In a statement presented at Farmington Municipal School’s online school board meeting, the district stated that their continuous learning policy would “focus on essential learning.”

Farmington, where all students were provided laptops before the school closure, except for kindergartners, is focusing exclusively on online learning activities.

Farmington Municipal School District Superintendent Eugene Schmidt said that a survey conducted by the district found that about 80% of FMS students had reliable internet access. Schmidt added that the district is looking into buying WiFi hotspots for students without internet access and working with local private internet providers and internet providers on the Navajo Nation to get internet access to those students without it, especially high school seniors.  

Gene Schmidt

The statement lays out maximum times students at different grade levels should spend on online classwork. For pre-kindergarten students, no more than 30 minutes per day should be spent on online classwork. Kindergarten through first graders, no more than 45 minutes. Second to third graders, no more than 60 minutes. Four to fifth graders, no more than 90 minutes. Sixth to 12th graders, no more than 25 minutes per class, with a maximum of three hours per day.     

“Limit screen time and keep computer-based assignments reasonable,” the statement reads.

For pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students, the statement suggests that teachers should “provide recommendations and support to parents/caregivers to help with learning tasks with children,” which include things like reading a book to your child and talking about it with them, acting out parts of a story, creative play and providing support for learning vocabulary words.

Elementary students will “Focus on student progress and learning, not assignment completion and due dates.”

Where is coronavirus? Interactive map shows cases in New Mexico and beyond

Middle school students will “Focus on student progress and learning, not assignment completion and/or due dates.”

“Students will be held harmless during this time of uncertainty and crisis,” the statement continues, “If students are not attempting/engaging any assignments, tasks or discussions, teachers are expected to implement intervention strategies to support identified students, and connect to ensure students are safe during [the] pandemic.”

Students will be given a pass/no credit grade based on their third quarter grades. Students who didn't receive a passing grade in the third quarter will be given opportunities to earn a passing grade throughout the rest of the school year. 

Story continues below gallery.

Seniors will still be required to complete 24 credits in order to graduate, but grades will change to a pass/no credit system, not letter grades.

"We are concerned that not all [students] have the same opportunity to learn because of internet access, that's why we're chosen to do the pass/no credit system," Schmidt added.  

For special education students the statement instructs teachers and educational assistants to “create-at-home supports based on IEPs and share with families,” and “send at-home supports to children, or provide training to parents and/or students through online platforms such as Google Hangouts.”  

The statement goes on to say that special education staff will have call-in office hours for students to get support for school work. 

Sam Ribakoff is a visual journalist for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621 or via email at sribakoff@daily-times.com.

Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/2I6TU0e